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Key witness wavers on stand

At the Long Beach hate crime trial, she now says she could not clearly see what defendants did.

December 05, 2006|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

A key prosecution witness in the trial of 10 black youths accused of beating three white women in Long Beach conceded under cross-examination Monday that she had difficulty seeing the attacks and could not specify how each of the accused minors were involved.

Last week Kiana Alford, 18, gave a vivid, step-by-step account of the Halloween attacks, stating that each of the juvenile defendants -- nine girls and one boy -- took part.

But Monday she testified that those detailed observations were made in about a minute, as she was driving away from the scene and then when she stopped about 175 feet away.

Defense attorneys repeatedly questioned how she was able to give such precise statements to police -- and then in court -- describing how at least 30 people mobbed the victims in three separate "huddles," particularly as it was dark.

At many points, Alford appeared to contradict her previous testimony.

"You were not able to testify what any of the individuals did in each particular ambush, correct?" attorney Darrell Goss asked.

"Correct," Alford said.

Goss went on to grill her about her statements. "The girl that was hitting and stomping and hitting with closed fists, what was she wearing?"

"I don't remember," Alford said.

"Nighttime, looking back 170 feet ... but you were able to see at that distance someone had their fist closed?"

"Yes ... I would say, yes."

The testimony came on the fifth day of a trial that has gained national attention and roused angry emotions among those who think the youths are getting special treatment because they are black, and those who think they are being railroaded for the same reason.

A family member of one of the victims left the courtroom angrily Monday, displaying a sign to reporters that read "This is why witnesses" are afraid to testify.

The defendants -- nine girls and one boy, ages 12 to 17 -- were stopped in two cars seen leaving the scene of the attack. Inside one of the cars was a cellphone ripped from a victim's hands.

The defense attorneys do not plan to argue that their clients were not at the scene, only that there is no evidence that each individual directly assaulted the women. Judge Gibson Lee will decide; there are no juries in juvenile proceedings.

Alford is a critical witness because she gave police specific information on all but two of the minors. She said she remembered the eight based on the clothes they were wearing.

But her testimony Monday raised doubts about her recollections. Alford testified that shortly after the attack, officers told her they had caught the assailants, and asked Alford to identify the youths she recognized. She was admonished not to identify anyone just because police had detained them.

How she came to identify the eight was not entirely clear from the testimony. During her testimony, she said she identified one girl based solely on her "I Love Halloween" T-shirt, which she recalled seeing on an attacker.

When she learned that several people were wearing the shirt that night, she did not tell officers that her identification could have been wrong.

Cross-examination is expected to continue today, followed by a re-direct by Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas.

*

joe.mozingo@latimes.com

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